Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Your Baby’s Brain Holds the Key to Solving Society’s Problems (Book Talk)
Try saying pediatric otolaryngologist. Not easy, right? According to Dana Suskind, who holds that title at the University of Chicago, our exposure to rich language in the first three years of our lives is critical not just for our ability to pronounce long words but for our overall development and success. Sadly, Suskind’s new book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, also shows that our achievements are largely determined by the economic and social environment into which we’re born.

Energy and Climate Change

‘I fear we will see radicalisation’ if Paris climate talks flop, says chair of 2009 Copenhagen summit
At the world’s last “blockbuster” climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, the person in the president’s chair was former EU climate commissioner and Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard. As someone who has led many important international efforts to reduce the risks of climate change but who also presided over what many felt was a frustrating result in Copenhagen, she has a unique perspective on the hype and hopes for December’s crunch climate summit in Paris. The Sydney Democracy Network invited her to a discussion where she engaged with participants including the new chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, Emma Herd, Clean Energy Finance Corporation chair Jillian Broadbent and Climate Council chair Tim Flannery. The result was some key insights into what to expect when world leaders converge on Paris.

South Australia calls for input into new climate change strategy
The South Australian government is calling for business and community feedback on a new strategy to transition to a low carbon economy and unlock $10 billion in investment by 2025. The state today (Wednesday) released six consultation papers on its climate change strategy for comment, as well as announced a new SA Low Carbon Economy Experts Panel comprising climate leaders Dr John Hewson, Professor Frank Jotzo and Anna Skarbek. The panel will advise the government on climate change policy, including how to secure the best economic opportunities for the state, premier Jay Weatherill said.

Massive solar power investment could see up to 10 power plants built in Australia
Two of the nation’s renewable energy agencies are planning a massive investment in solar power which could see the construction of up to 10 large-scale power plants. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) announced a combined $350 million investment… Both organisations said the new investment would drive down the cost of solar development and create more innovation in the sector. “The goal is to reduce the cost of the supply chain in particular,” ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said.

IEA study highlights remarkable shift in competitiveness of solar PV
Imagine that you are the obesity patient that for years has been complaining that healthy food is too expensive for your purse. Then unexpectedly comes the consumer agency with a sample of shopping bags, revealing that your perception is wrong: The junk food you are eating is actually more expensive than the healthy food you know should be eating. The report I refer to is a new IEA study published last week, «Projected Costs of Generating Electricity». Actually, in this case, the consumer agency itself was partly responsible for your flawed perception.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Seattle calls on Bill Gates to divest from fossil fuels
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is facing fresh calls to move his charity’s investments out of fossil fuels from the community in Seattle where it is based, led by the city’s former mayor. The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation is the world’s largest charitable foundation and funder of medical research. It had $1.4bn (£1bn) invested in fossil fuel companies, according to its latest available tax filings from 2013.

Environment and Biodiversity

Insects find lifeline in the busiest of busy lizzies
Pop, pip, pop … seedheads of Himalayan balsam are bursting in tiny explosions. The flower heads are chandeliers of red-green, glassy, pendants, which open into lipped, lobed, bulbous flowers like orchids from cerise to shell pink. Each of these has a bee’s backside sticking out of it. When they’re pollinated and the petals crinkle and fall, the seedhead grenades are formed. The first of these popped in Britain in 1839 when the plant was grown in gardens from seed collected in the Himalayas. Since then Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), the busiest of busy lizzies, has colonised stream banks, river valleys and damp patches all over the country.

Shark flung itself onto the rocks to flee hungry orca
Orca expert Ingrid Visser carried out a rescue of a different type when she saved a shark after it flung itself on to rocks fleeing from hungry orca in the Bay of Islands. Dr Visser was with a visiting Japanese crew near Jacks Bay on Monday when a pod of 16 orca were spotted hunting stingray and sevengill sharks. It was a case of predator versus bigger predator and it was the sharks who came off second best.

First kakariki chicks hatched for Natureland breeding program
NEW ZEALAND – The hatching of two native parrots at Natureland is a sign that the recently established kakariki breeding program is off to a flying start.  The yellow-crowned parakeet chicks are the first to be hatched as part of a breed for release program between Project Janszoon and the Department of Conservation to help boost the native parrot population in the Abel Tasman National Park. In April, eight kakariki were caught and transferred from Long Island in Queen Charlotte Sound to a purpose built aviary at Natureland. Since then they have gone through the process of picking pairs and bonding which has resulted in the recent arrivals.

Barrington Tops Devil Ark to send first shipment of new Tasmanian devils back to island home
A Tasmanian Devil breeding program in the New South Wales Barrington Tops is about to achieve another milestone in its five-year program. Located at an altitude of just per 1,300 metres, the Devil Ark project provides the perfect breeding environment for the devils. Some of the 154 devils bred in the Barrington Tops will be released in Tasmania in November.

New Javan rhino calves filmed in the wild raise hopes for one of the world’s rarest
Three critically endangered Javan rhino calves have been filmed in an Indonesian national park, raising hopes for the future of the one world’s rarest rhino after years of population decline. One female calf and two males were spotted in recent months in Ujung Kulon park on Indonesia’s Java, and were all likely born in the past year, park chief Mohammad Haryono said. Mr Haryono said the discovery of the calves, filmed in April, May and July, brings the population of the Javan rhino to 60, all of which live in Ujung Kulon.


Europe is parched, in a sign of times to come
Europe has undergone a severe drought this summer, the worst in over a decade. Temperatures have been high across the continent, and have combined with low rainfalls. This drought, like the one in 2012 in the United States, are a sign of what our future holds in a warming world.  As humans emit greenhouse gases, the world warms. We already know that. But a warming world is also host to other changes. Among the most important changes are those to the water cycle.

Economy and Business

What Is the Payoff from Product Sustainability Investments?
Those of us in the field may share a deep-seated belief that sustainability efforts across the product value chain pay clear dividends — but it’s nice to have proof. Nearly all firms state that they have achieved business benefits from their product sustainability programs, according to the second Pure Strategies survey of companies involved in product sustainability, released today. The value derived from such efforts cuts across productivity, risk reduction, and growth opportunities. With widespread benefits, it is no surprise that more companies are ramping up their investment in their product sustainability programs.

Energy chief: Power companies must go green or go bust
Power companies that ignore the growing business and consumer demand for green energy are in danger of putting themselves out of business, a high-ranking energy executive has warned.  Guy Madgwick, managing director of Eneco UK, says the proliferation of companies selling energy has prompted a shift of power toward consumers – who have shown clear support for greener energy.

Report: Lack of Data on Ag Emissions Leaves 10% of Global GHG Unaccounted For
The biggest source of food-related greenhouse gas emissions occur in the agricultural production portion of producer’s supply chains, but less than a quarter of the major brands that disclosed to CDP this year reported their indirect emissions from agricultural production. With emissions from agricultural production responsible for 10-14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the lack of data from companies on this area suggests that at least 10 percent of global emissions are being unaccounted for, the report says.

Enova is just the start of community renewables on the rise
Enova Community Energy’s initial public offering for its northern NSW solar power retailer and installation company is the latest in a new wave of community and social enterprise activity in the solar and renewable energy market that stretches from Cowra, to Shoalhaven, Sydney’s Darling Harbour and the ACT. And the kind of support Enova has garnered points to growing strength in the sector.

UTS goes straight to the source with new solar contract
The University of Technology Sydney will purchase electricity directly from a solar farm in the Hunter Valley, in a partnership believed to be the first of its kind in Australia. The new model of renewable energy purchasing will see the UTS Dr Chau Chak Wing Building (otherwise known as the Frank Gehry building) source 12 per cent of its annual electricity from the 200-kilowatt Singleton Solar Farm Stage 2 in the Hunter Valley. According to UTS, the partnership is the first in Australia where a power purchase agreement has been signed directly between a large energy customer and a solar farm on an offsite location. “UTS strives to lead in sustainability and new business models can be just as important as new technologies in achieving this,” UTS deputy vice chancellor (resources) Patrick Woods said.

UPS drives towards ‘delivery trucks of tomorrow’
Delivery firm UPS has today (9 September) confirmed the purchase of 125 new hybrid electric delivery trucks in the US and begun trials for its first range-extended electric vehicles in the UK.   The new trucks, which will deliver up to four times the fuel economy of a conventional vehicle, will be deployed in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida the first half of 2016.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Slow clothing: One woman’s mission to encourage sustainable clothing choices part of global movement
The slow food movement encouraging shoppers to think more deeply about the origins of what they eat has gained huge momentum in recent years. But have you heard of the slow clothing movement? In 2014 Brisbane agricultural scientist and communicator Jane Milburn set herself the mammoth task of working on an eco-clothing project every day for a year, in what she described as “a journey into creativity, empowerment, thrift and sustainability”.

Politics and Society

Tackle climate change or face resource wars, Lord Ashdown warns
The former leader of one of the UK’s main political parties says the world will undergo more resource wars and huge movements of desperate people unless it tackles climate change effectively. Lord Ashdown, who was leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats for 11 years, describes the present flight of refugees from Syria and other conflict areas as a “rehearsal” for the vast humanitarian disaster he believes will soon unfold. In a recent BBC interview on the Syrian refugee crisis, he said: “This is the beginnings of the future. It’s not going to go away. “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Europe will have ‘climate refugees tomorrow’ without ambitious Paris deal, warns Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, has called for the world to sign an ambitious deal to tackle climate change this year, and warned rising temperatures could worsen the migrant crisis Europe is currently facing. In his State of the Union speech this morning, Juncker warned there was “no time to lose” in committing to a bold agreement at the United Nations climate change summit in December. He said the EU should fight for an ambitious deal and should not be prepared to sign anything. With thousands of migrants entering Europe this summer from the Middle East, sparking a crisis between member states over where they will be able to reside, Juncker warned that the future refugees would come to Europe to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

Government axes renewable feed-in tariff pre-accreditation
UK – The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has confirmed plans to remove a key part of the feed-in tariff for renewable energy schemes, despite vast opposition to the proposals.  A four-week consultation into removing preliminary accreditation from the feed-in tariff closed today (9 September), having received almost 2,400 responses.

Labour slams ‘perverse’ scrapping of Climate Change Levy exemption for renewables
UK – The Labour Party has accused the government of “undermining renewable energy” by removing the Climate Change Levy (CCL) exemption for clean energy generation with just one month’s notice. In a House of Commons debate last night, Labour slammed the government’s decision to impose the CCL, a form of tax relief currently applied for non-domestic users of renewable energy, on clean energy generators.

Australia failing to make climate policy grade among OECD countries, report says
One Australian produces more than three times the amount of carbon dioxide produced by individuals in leading industrialised countries on average, a report into the readiness of the world’s richest countries to combat climate change has found. The Sustainable Development Goals: Are the rich countries ready? report revealed that most OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries are a long way off reaching United Nations development goals, with Australia 18th out of the 34 OECD nations. It said that while Australia falls somewhere in the middle of industrialised countries when it comes to environmental sustainability, its record on combating climate change and carbon emissions is poor.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission: Professor Ross Garnaut warns of need to tackle greenhouse gases
A royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle has opened in Adelaide, with the first witness warning of Australia’s need to catch up with other countries on tackling greenhouse gas emissions. University of Melbourne Professor Ross Garnaut told the commission that human activity and the release of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds into the atmosphere were changing the world’s climate and Australia must respond… “It is clear what Australia’s pathway will need to be if we are to do our fair share in the global effort to … reduce total emissions by about 95 per cent by the middle of the century,” he said. Professor Garnaut said Australia could become a competitive supplier of low-emission energy and “win back” its position as a low-energy country.

Queensland researchers calls for more farmer input into climate change response
How to respond to climate change is always a hot, or cold topic, but one North Queensland researcher wants farmers to have more input in the debate. Townsville James Cook University researcher, Connar McShane, will lead a research project across the next two years, to hear the opinions and thoughts of producers across Australia, on the controversial issue.  An online survey has been active for three months and so far there have been 50 responses.

Greenpeace hires team of investigative journalists
Greenpeace has hired a team of investigative journalists as part of plans to make investigations one of three pillars of its environmental campaigning. Former Newsnight and Panorama correspondent Meirion Jones is a consultant on the project, which will be staffed by journalists including former BBC reporter Damian Kahya, New York Times and Vice stringer Lucy Jordan and Maeve McClenaghan, formerly of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. About half a dozen core team members will be supplemented by a network of freelancers, field researchers and specialists based around the world.

Food Systems

Brazil’s top chefs turn to Amazonian insects for new menu
When people think of an ant in the kitchen, it is probably of an uninvited little insect painstakingly transporting food remains to its colony. But this concept might soon change. Brazilian top chefs are leading a gastronomic revolution by including bugs and other Amazonian ingredients, cooked with pioneering techniques, into their sophisticated menus, in a move that acknowledges the value of Brazil’s native food culture.

Jamie Oliver Proposes Tax on Sugary Drinks in UK; Industry Is Not Amused
UK chef and “Food Revolution”-ary Jamie Oliver teamed up with food lobbying organization Sustain to encourage the UK government to consider a tax on sugary drinks and use the proceeds to help curb childhood obesity. Oliver launched a petition last week that has gained over 129,000 signatures so far. The UK Parliament considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for a debate. “Studies show that soft drinks with added sugar are the largest single source of sugar in the diets of UK school children & teenagers,” reads the petition page.

Frequent TB testing for cattle ‘more effective’ than badger culls
More frequent testing of cattle for tuberculosis is a “no-brainer” in curbing the disease in England, according to a scientist whose new analysis of government statistics shows the policy is working in Wales. In contrast, TB in cattle is rising in England, where testing is less frequent and a controversial badger cull is taking place.


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